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Please Offer Me a Seat

Last night, for the first time in the four months almost to the day that I have been wearing my Raspberry* Badge (as I call it, having finally been trained by Sooterkin™ and Brother-Wife™ that it is not cockney rhyming slang when you actually use the word which rhymes as a shorthand), someone noticed it and stood up for me so I could sit in a seat on public transport.  It wasn’t a seat specifically for disabled/elderly/people-with-children, those were occupied already, but it was a seat which I needed.

Me with blue badge TFLLovelyYoungMan (as he shall henceforth be known) moved only when a mother with a child started to wake her child up to put on her lap so I could sit, and his conscience was stirred.  LYM apologised profusely, and said he’d noticed my badge and had been staring at it but had not twigged what it actually meant.  He may have blushed.  It was quite sweet!

I don’t blame LYM for not knowing what it meant, nor do I blame the myriad others who have clearly read the badge but ignored it completely; it’s entirely possible they had simply drifted into a reverie as I often do and the words did not penetrate their consciousness.  A walking stick has better luck in gaining the possessor access to the seats specifically put aside for disabled passengers in that it is more clearly visible, but I have watched the faces of those who have read the badge, looked at me and just looked away.  Not all of them are disabled too.

There has been no publicity with regard to the new badges made available to help those of us with invisible disabilities and/or chronic pain conditions and/or mobility issues (not always the same thing).  I chat with many fellow raspberries and inform them of the badge and how to apply for it, and not a single one of them has known about it prior to meeting me.

Seats taken up by bags is a very common sight on buses, and I need two buses each way on my commute to and from work so this is a definite and ongoing problem for me.  It seems people don’t realise that disabled people can work and therefore might need the space to sit in order to actually get to work.  Ironic in a political climate which is attacking disabled people to the point that they are unable to receive sufficient benefits to survive and are therefore forced to work (even if they are unable to do so or their conditions are unable to submit themselves to the strict timetabling work generally employs) or to die.

 

Bag on seat 1

Not a bag, but an oddly shaped child called M’Tarquinias.  Or something.

Both of the women in these pictures noticed me.  Both ignored me, after the one in the left picture gave me a dirty look at the sound of the click of my mobile phone as it took the picture (I feel no guilt, she is not identifiable from this image)!  Both women were capable of having their little bags on their laps and allowing a disabled person (or elderly person, or parent with child, as these seats are for them too) to sit on that seat.  These people I feel are just rude and thoughtless.  Many schoolchildren use ‘spare’ seats as bag rests too, but are quick to move the bag when asked, even if with a heavy sigh of hard-done-by-poor-me.  Neither of these women moved their bags.

Bag on seat 2

Also not a bag, but a dog that has had extensive plastic surgery.  Probably.

I had the badge on for both occasions, and as you can see from the top picture I wear it prominently where it is obvious and easy to read.  The same has happened many more times than I can count, when I was still unable to sit in the disabled seats.  On one of the aforementioned occasions I managed to get a seat further back by hauling my pain-filled carcass up the steps to climb into them, yet many people were still standing including others who were elderly, parents or visibly disabled.

Clearly, awareness of the existence of the badge is required, as is how to apply for it**.  Moreover though, it appears an acknowledgement and understanding of the variety of disabilities and the needs of those with them is also required before people will take notice of it.  On the plus side, due to the invisibility of my mobility issues the badge does mean that if I am sat in the seats for disabled people, I am not questioned or glared at or talked at/down/to in a derogatory manner for my mere presence in the area!

So, if you see anyone wearing this badge, and you are sitting down in the disabled area, or indeed if you are sat in any other area of the bus, please do offer them your seat.  They are not wearing the badge for a joke, I promise you, and they do really need to sit down!

*Raspberry Ripple = cripple.   Only disabled/differently-abled should use this, otherwise it may be considered discriminatory and negative. Unless you are friends with raspberries and are using it in a context which all those with you understand clearly to be an affectionate term with permitted usage by said raspberry!  It’s all about the context in which the term is used.

**Apply for the badge here: https://tfl.gov.uk/campaign/please-offer-me-a-seat

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Captain Chronic Pain –v- The Spontaneity Demon

I have just had the most wonderful bank holiday weekend with my family, and am suffering for it. (TL:DR image to explain spoon theory and pain balancing at the end).

spinal pain imageI have osteoarthritis in my spine, neck, shoulders and hips, and therefore live with chronic pain.  It ebbs and flows, is unpredictable, and it is a constant work-in-progress to find a balance in life which enables me to live as close to ‘normal’ as possible.

My life has closed in; I work full-time but that means weekdays from Wednesday onwards are usually out for me for any kind of social activity unless I am prepared to deal with a LOT of pain for the next few days and possibly being unable to work at all.  An overarching fear of unemployment and lack of employability because of my myriad chronic conditions means full-time employment takes priority over everything else.

Due to unrelated CLL, another chronic condition, there is a cumulative fatigue which occurs which also has a knock-on effect on balancing of life events and ability to, on the worst case days, get out of bed let alone the house.

If I have plans for one weekend, I need to ensure that at least one day will be empty for recovery.  If both days have plans, then the weekends either side need to be empty.  If that isn’t possible, I need to be aware that days off work may be imminent.  I need to balance the amount of spoons I have!

I therefore need to prioritise my activities and that leads to decisions which I find very hard to make, as it means no spontaneity, no visiting friends for just chats and socialising, no pub visits, nothing that is not a ‘special’ event such as a wedding, a birthday, an anniversary etc.

It means trusting my friends to know that the fact I cannot travel to see them because the balance I need to find to live my life means it is a luxury my body cannot afford.  It means trusting that I am worth the trouble my chronic pain causes.

No More SpoonsIt means having faith in myself that I am worth the extra level of care I need to give to myself, and that I need my friends to put in me.  That is a really tough one to comprehend let alone live, but it is a constant work in progress as is the aforementioned balance.

Chronic conditions ebb and flow so the balance is in constant flux.  I may be fine one day, one week, one time in which I say yes to an invitation, but the next day, week or at time of the event to which I was invited, I may be incapable of physical action.  The most difficult thing for me and for many of my chronic condition friends is that we are unreliable by default.  Our bodies won’t let us be reliable.  That is a lot for anyone to deal with and plans which are made may have to be broken.

I adored my bank holiday weekend shenanigans, and I accept the price I pay for it.  The hardest thing is to accept my loved ones will have to pay the price too.

spoon theory-one day

One spoon, two spoons, three spoons, four. Five spoons, six spoons, damn I dropped them on the floor!

Step Up, White People, And Be Heard!

The horrific terrorist incident on Saturday 12th August 2017 in Charlottesville, USA in which one woman was murdered and at least 19 people injured by a white supremacist driving his car into them, has pushed the United States further into the media spotlight, highlighting the extremism and bigotry suffered by people of colour in the United States.

Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, stated 24 hours after the incident (and in his first comment on the horror): “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.  On many sides.”

Group hug!

We are a multiracial humanity, with different experiences, oppressions and privileges.

We in the United Kingdom should not get complacent.  It happens here too, more than those of us with white privilege could ever know, because it isn’t reported.  The same weekend that the horror in Charlottesville was unfolding, my local area was commemorating the 40 year anniversary of Battle of Lewisham in which antifascist demonstrators protested the National Front march through Lewisham, Deptford and New Cross in south east London, areas with a high non-white demographic.

Our media is regularly publishing articles demonising the Islamic community; on Tuesday 15th August 2017 The Sun (a tabloid ‘news’paper) published a column by Trevor Kavanagh specifically claiming the entirety of the Islamic community creates “one unspoken fear, gagged by political correctness, which links Britain and the rest of Europe. The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam…What will we do about The Muslim Problem then [upon the UK exiting the EU?]”

IPSO has received “a total of 150 complaints about the piece to which you refer, mostly under Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice” and an open letter signed by more than 100 cross-party MPs has called for action as a result of this column.

Racist attacks have been on the rise since the Brexit vote, but that merely means that those with racist views have felt more legitimised in those views and able to comfortably opine and act in public.  The Independent reported that racist hate crimes had risen by over 100% by February 2017 and these are just the cases that are recorded by the police.

On Wednesday 16th August 2017 and at the time or writing, our Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to condemn the words of Donald Trump defending the actions of the fascists at Charlottesville, although she does at least recognise there is no equivalence between the counter-protestors and the fascists.  Our leaders are failing us.

I note there are still many claiming there is violence on both sides; this may be true but think about who the instigators of this violence are.  Think of the oppression of hundreds of years which is meted out in words, in legislation, in social bigotry and in physical pain.  There may be violence, but who is attacking and who is defending, in this situation?  If you think there is an even ground upon which the violence is being enacted, then you do not understand the situation.

Now is the time we need to stand up and be counted.  All of us, white people especially.  Those who are oppressed should not have to carry the weight of the fight against such oppression themselves.  Racism is not isolated incidents, it is pervasive and built into our systems of governance and our social interactions.  To be clear, RACE IS NOT A CHARACTER TRAIT.  Any assumptions based on race, or religion, or any arbitrary characteristic, is bigotry.

Our white privilege affords us a safety net that people of colour, people of oppressed groups, do not have, especially if you are a male white person with no visible disabilities.  We need to use this privilege to step up where it is not safe for those who are oppressed to do so.  Don’t step over or on those who are oppressed, but do be the stepping stone upon which they can step to become that which oppression denies them.

If you are struggling for what you can do, try these for a start:

  • Acknowledge your white privilege and open your eyes to see how it is enacted every day. This will be hard at first, but once you start, it will, sadly, get easier.
  • If a colleague, friend or family member makes a racist joke – don’t let it slide. Ask them what it is they find funny about it, or pretend you don’t understand it and get them to explain the meaning.  Then simply say you don’t find racism funny.  No-one should get a pass on being racist.
  • If you witness a racist incident, don’t be a passive onlooker. Support the person being abused and confront the racist person.  Do it on your own volition, not on behalf of the person being abused.  Redirect the ire; be the change you want to see.
  • Sign petitions, go on marches, be public and loud in your opposition to racism at every opportunity. You may get tired of it, but people suffering racist oppression don’t get a day off so nor should we.
  • If someone tells you of a racist incident they suffered, don’t demand proof, offer empathy.
  • Speak openly with your children about oppression and make an effort to open them up to the history and achievements of people of colour. Watch movies, TV programmes and books with people of colour as protagonists.  Representation matters to everyone.
  • Don’t expect a person of colour to educate you. Do it yourself.  Google, go to a library, ask for recommendations from friends if you feel they will be receptive.
  • If someone calls you out on something you have said, stop and listen and take time to think about what they are saying. White privilege blinds us; don’t get upset by someone who is trying to help you to see.  If it is in an angry tone, just put yourself in the shoes of the person calling out – how many racist comments or incidents would it take to be aimed at you before you got angry at every one? They are doing you a favour in trying to help you to see, don’t tone police, just listen.
  • You might suffer from bigotry for other reasons, such as sexuality, ability or gender. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from racism.  Privileges and oppressions intersect.  Don’t be the person who says “what white privilege? I’m *insert intersecting identity here*, I’m not privileged”.  It’s not a competition, it’s not an either/or situation.
  • Don’t claim to be ‘colour-blind’ or ‘not to see race’; that simply denies and silences the experiences of people of colour and denies your white privilege which you benefit from without having a choice in the matter. It’s offensive, so don’t do it.  That’s something I was called out on long ago, and I am very grateful for it.

As your practice in fighting white privilege grows, you will find more that you can do.

This is not a freedom of speech issue like the fascists are claiming it to be.  These same fascists turned up to their protest against the expressed will of the residents of Charlottesville, and many of whom turned up carrying guns, shields, mace, pepper spray and clubs, and in combat gear.

This is an issue about freedom from racism, hate, bigotry and violence, whether by word or deed.  Donald Trump is wrong; the violence was and is perpetrated by the fascists.

Mandela quote re racism is taughtMaybe one day, there will no longer be an “us and them”.  That’s my hope; that’s my dream.  Make it yours, too, and act.  To be passive is to be complicit; don’t be that person.  Be the answer, not the question.

More on the events in Charlottesville:

Witness and member of the multi-faith worship congregation threatened by white supremacists, the Rev Traci Blackman: http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/trump-is-lying-about-charlottesville-says-witness-1025515075632

Vice News Tonight: The City Council allowed the march against the wishes of the residents of Charlottesville.  What the terror looked like, interviews with fascists attempting to justify their separatism and supremacist views.  CONTENT WARNING for aftermath of the car terror incident: https://www.facebook.com/VICE/videos/852427574917194/

Fascist terrorist actions in the US in 2017 so far (incomplete as microagressions and ‘everyday racism’ is too numerous to count): http://fozmeadows.tumblr.com/post/164164615366/you-antifa-guys-are-actually-more-hateful-and

Lets Talk Periods!

There are a lot of euphemisms for periods – on the blob, Aunt Flo, time of the month, the builders/painters are in, on the rag, surfing the crimson wave, and so on.  A survey by Clue with International Women’s Health Coalition in 2015 found over 5,000 different ways of stating you are having a period in over 190 countries.  No wonder that conversations about menstruation are seldom had if we can’t even bring ourselves to name it!

period image

We got The Talk™ in biology classes at school around age 12/13 but it was just the mechanics – egg expelled from ovary, travels down fallopian tube, and if it is not fertilised it implants in womb (uterus) lining which has thickened to accept the egg, and if no fertilisation has occurred then then egg and lining is shed, and it is this which is known as a period.  We were told you’ll lose about 4 and 12 teaspoonsful of blood on average (could be more, could be less).

As a result of minimal information given in an embarrassed lecture at which there was no opportunity to ask questions, I remember unfortunate incidences of bleeding through pads onto underwear, of being in agony (I occasionally had to take a day off school) but being unable to say why to the teacher, of random bursting into tears for no apparent reason and not knowing why, of never really knowing when I might start, and of other bodily changes occurring which none of us had any way of knowing was normal or not.  And that was just me!

So here is what might or might not happen once you start menstruating.  Bear in mind you might get all, some or none at all of the following, and at varying times in your life:

1.  You may find you fart a lot more than you usually do.  I am pretty sure no-one will have told you that!  However, as the uterus, cervix and vagina are all situated very closely to the bowel system, it should not surprise you to know it can have a knock-on effect.

2.  Diarrhoea is quite common during your period, as it’s opposite twin, constipation. See above for why!

3.  Cramps can be mild but they can also hurt a lot.  They are so common they even got a medical name – dysmenorrhoea. A hot water bottle relaxes the muscles and will ease the pain.  Muscle relaxant painkillers like ibuprofen can also help.

4.  Emotions may become heightened so it is perfectly normal to feel down and/or up, angry or sad or more loving. Everyone is different. 

5.  Aches and pains in your nipples and breasts, limbs, neck, all over your back, hips, and feeling more tired, weaker and being clumsier than at other times.  Sometimes you may vomit or feel nauseous.

6.  You might feel yourself ovulate (expel the egg from the ovary).  I didn’t at first, but have been able to for some time; it feels like a strong stabbing in either my right or left side on the front, then a cramping, then done.

7.  You may get cravings for chocolate, cake, any sweet things, or savoury foods such as crisps, either when ovulating or menstruating, or both, and this can last some time.

8.   Quite a lot of people feel a lot more sexual at this time, and sex during a period is not dirty, or icky, but extra exchange of fluid does put you at a higher risk of an STD and you can still get pregnant, so even though you are not at your most fertile, it is vital barrier contraception is used even during your period.  For some people, having an orgasm helps enormously with period cramping and pain.  Some people feel quite the opposite, and do not want to be touched during this time.  Others, it doesn’t affect one way or the other.

Remember, a lower risk does not mean no risk, and it only takes one sperm to penetrate the egg, so contraception is a must unless you are actually trying to have a baby!

9.  You may bloat around your middle, retaining water and finding your clothes are tighter, and your breasts may increase in size.

10.  You might get bad headaches, migraine or even cluster migraine.  This is the effect of hormonal changes in the body and is normal, although very painful.

11.  You may have an increase in itchiness around your vagina and in it before you start your period.  This is a change in the natural balance PH level and will die down when your period ends.

12. Your period can last from 2 to 10 days each time and you may even have a break during the bleed time, and the heaviness of your flow may vary from month to month.  If you feel more tired during this time it may be through a loss of iron in the blood causing anaemia.  If it is a regular thing, do talk to your GP to check it out – you might need iron supplements or to increase your intake of iron giving foods like red meats or dark green veg during your period (for more advice, click here) .

13.  A cycle is anything from 21 to 40 days – anything within this is normal and some have longer regular cycles.  You may have noticed by now, ‘normal’ has a very broad definition!

14.  The average age to first start menstruating (which is called the ‘menarche’) is between 10 and 14 years old based on current medical data.  However, earlier or later is not unheard of.  If your child starts before the age of 8, this is unusual and you should go to your GP to check for any problems as early onset puberty can indicate growth hormone problems.  Likewise if you or your child have not shown any signs of starting their period soon, such as budding breasts and/or the appearance underarm hair or pubic hair, or an increase in sweating and possibly development of body odour, by the age of 16 it might be worth getting checked out.  Remember though, when you first start menstruating and when you begin to stop, your periods will be erratic.

15.  There are a lot of products that you can use during your period to prevent blood on your underwear – sanitary towels and tampons have different strengths/sizes for different flows.  Moon/diva/menstrual cups are designed to be inserted into your vagina to catch the blood, and need to be emptied and cleaned before reinsertion, in the same way sanitary products need to be changed regularly.  You can buy recyclable sanitary towels which are washed and reused.  Use what suits you best, and know this may change over time as your body changes and gets older.

It is VERY important to change tampons regularly and never leave one it for more than 8 hours (one sleep) because this can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can in very rare circumstances be fatal.  It’s rare, but does happen.  A child friendly explanation is in the Resources section at the end of this blog as well as here.

16.   If you have an eating disorder or condition this can stop periods and have devastating long term effects on your body quite apart from lack of periods and infertility.  Please seek help from your parent/teacher/friends/caregiver and/or medical professional, if you have not already.

17. You can take the pill which you may be prescribed by a medical professional to deal with any, some or all of the problems you suffer with your period – it’s not always prescribed for contraception.  The pill works by fooling your body into thinking it is pregnant, and there are several types of pill so you may try more than one before finding the best that suits you.  You can also take the pill non-stop (do take advice first though) to prevent the 28-day cycle of bleeding.

18. Discharges are very common; you may have a brownish discharge close to the time of your period, or you may have a clear, slightly creamy/yellowish viscous discharge at odd times.  This is all perfectly normal.  There is a natural, iron-y smell to periods so if anyone tells you it’s not normal to have a slight odour, they are wrong.  Any strong smell which persists should be checked out for signs of vaginal infection.  If you have pain when peeing or itchiness around the vagina which persists for a few weeks, you may have a urine infection such as cystitis or vaginal infection such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush.  All normal, not signs of sexual activity (although vaginal infections can be passed between partners) and you should get checked out by your GP as they are common and easy to treat.

19. As you get older, your cycle may change.  What was normal for you as a teenager will change into what is normal for a young adult will change into what is normal for a 25-45 year old adult will change into what is normal for a menopausal (usually but not always 50+) adult, and each will be normal for you and not necessarily anyone let alone everyone else!  Unfortunately this may mean the acne or pimples you suffered from as a teenager may come back, or if you have them now, they may go away.  Hormones are playful little things!

20.  A change in your regular pattern of periods (if you have one) should be checked out by your GP as it can have other implications for your health. Click on links within each for more information.  For example:

  • Amenorrhoea is defined medically as a lack of menstruation for a three-month or longer period in a person who had prior to that had a ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ cycle.
  • Oligomenorrhoea is when you have few light periods – this is quite common in athletes and those who do a lot of physical exercise. It is also linked to PCOS and can indicate perimenopause (early signs of menopause and the stopping of periods completely).  It is simply a medical term and unless it is accompanied by other changes or as part of another diagnosis, is not something to worry about.
  • Adenomyosis.  This is an increase in blood flow and/or length of period and/or pain experienced, and such changes persisting for several months.  It would be easy to dismiss as possibly entering perimenopause, but if you are still in your 30s or 40s this should be checked out by your GP.  It might be early menopause but it might not, and simple blood tests can sort out which.
  • Clotting – one or two clots is fine as this is the egg being shed. However, more than that should be checked out by your GP.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – I was diagnosed with this after a blood test showed elevated levels of androgens in my system, after my periods had gone from a regular 36-day cycle to very erratic, to by the time. There are treatments if you choose to take them; it can cause fertility problems, weight gain and hirsuteness (hairiness).
  • Endometriosis – this is when the lining of your womb sticks to other parts of your body, and causes extremely horrible period pains outside your womb, where the blood being flushed from the lining has nowhere to go.
  • Fibroids are non-cancerous growths in the womb which can make periods very painful and heavy. They can be removed with surgery.

There are a lot of medical terms related to periods but this does not mean it is anything to worry about, or is not normal, or indicates in any way that you must stop enjoying your life in the way you already do.  If you are at all worried do see your GP or Practice Nurse, or even chat to your pharmacist, as they will be able to put your mind at rest.

21. It is also very normal not to experience any of the above.  Some people just bleed for a few days in a regular cycle, and nothing else happens.  I’m starting to think we need a new word for normal when discussing periods!

If anyone tells you that you can’t do something because you are on your period, or assumes that your reaction to something is because you are hormonal, or dismisses you in any way because of your period, remind them that non-menstrual people have regular hormonal cycles too.  24-hour or more, irregular cycles with moods rising up and down.  Just because it is not shown by bleeding every so often does not mean it is not there!

Resources:

 

Thanks to the following for their comments, information, wise words and laughs in writing this blog:
Bella, Kate, Michelle, Mandy, Jessie, Griselda, Alix, Naomi B, Genevieve, Jules, Gill, Sue, Mikey, Elaine, Janice, Lois, Emily, Anya, Lynne, Emma J, Emma B, Rachel, Kirsty, Cheryl, Paula, Elaine, Anna, Riven, Samantha, Alex, Lauren, Awanthi, Sally, Guinevere, Melissa, Naomi M, Carol, Lee, Lucy, Dawn, Gaynor.

speech bubbles-colour

Sticks and Stones May Break Bones, But Words Oppress Far Longer

Women’s Views on News recently shared an article on Facebook from the site Fair Play For Women (“FPFW”) which was a litany of transphobic language and unsubstantiated opinion.  Having had a research on FPFW it is clear this article is representative of the views of the site.  WVON stated when posting the article: “to be clear : We fully support the rights of trans people to safety, dignity and equal rights, but not at the expense of women and girls.”

The “safety, dignity and equal rights of trans people” were explicitly denied throughout the article. The language of the shared post is explicitly transphobic and some people may find the following quotes triggering:

  • “Hypnotised by the trans community’s charm & sparkle”
  • “I’m guessing they’ve [those debating the updating of the Gender Recognition Act 2004] been told a lot of sob stories by minor trans celebs like Kellie Maloney and India Willoughby, felt terribly sorry for them (the poor girls can’t find a man!) and haven’t bothered to check reality.”
  • “In fact, a person only has to live as a woman for a period of time – whatever that means; presumably it involves swishy hair and nail varnish, those distinctive traits of female biology – and get a doctor to agree they’ve changed gender.”
  • “did you notice where transition means you get all your identification documents altered to suit your new name? Yep, it’s a charter for criminals and anyone else seeking to disappear.” “It rarely happens at present due to the “living as” requirement, but of course Instant Magic Sex Change™ will offer endless glorious opportunities for everyone wishing to escape their past – or even adopt a temporary identity for the duration of certain activity”
  • “they will have more rights than females in female-only places.”
  • “A woman calling out a male-born ‘woman’ is guilty of discrimination and verbal assault – but the owner of a ‘female’ cock & balls commits no crime by showing them off in the women’s shower room. Great news for flashers and voyeurs.”
  • “Men are already winning women’s sports. Watch this explode. You may as well tell girls it’s all about trying your best, because they won’t be able to win.”
  • “Sex discrimination at work? Forget it. Why would they promote you, a female who has periods and might get pregnant, over a male-born woman without all that awkward biology?
  • Sexual harassment? You’ve got to be kidding! All the male-born women love it! Stop complaining.”
  • “Be raped by a woman. Yes, suddenly rapists can be women and females can be as criminally violent as males.”

There is repeated use of “male-born woman” in reference to transgender women (as per usual in these articles, transgender men are conveniently forgotten or erased from the argument), which is Transphobic Language No-No’s 101.  The advised and respectful term is ‘assigned male at birth’ when referring to transgender women and ‘assigned female at birth’ when referring to transgender men, or the best option, not using either term at all.

Note the use of “charm & sparkle” being hypnotic; this reduces any point put forward by a transgender person to being that which is based on removing the ability of person with whom they are talking to comprehend and agree, because hypnosis is a process which implants suggestion into the subconscious and removes conscious action in coming to an opinion.  Basically, it voids any agreement on the basis that it is not ‘real’ agreement.

Charm and sparkle is not a compliment, it is a derogatory term reducing all transgender activists and non-activists to overtly feminine caricatures.

The second point makes clear where the author is coming from, and utilising sexist presumption without qualifying how the author is defining the ‘reality’ to be checked.

A transgender person MUST live openly in representation of the gender they know they are for a minimum of two years before accessing medical transitional treatment.  That is the only way of transitioning via hormonal therapy and/or surgery, if that is the pathway they wish to choose.  There is an unsavoury whiff of sexism in the comment with regard to swishy hair and nail varnish being seen as traits of female biology, and this point I agree with.  However, it is not those who are transgender who impose these ideals, it is those they apply to for treatment who impose these ideals.

As for pointing out that criminals could use what the author views as “Instant Magic Sex Change”, criminals already change their identity and whilst it is very presumptive, unproven and basically an invalid unverifiable supposition on the part of the author, surely it would be easier to stick to the gender identity one was assigned at birth when changing one’s identity to hide one’s criminal activity?

To assert that transgender women will have more rights than ‘females in female-only places’ is another unproven and unverifiable supposition.  Statistically speaking transgender women face more prejudice, more violence, and are murdered at a far higher rate than cisgender women.

These ‘rights’ which the author speaks of do not exist, have never existed, and will not exist.  The violence and discrimination is proven.

The following graph is an edited version of Table 2 in the UK Government statistics on hate crimes document “Hate Crime England & Wales 2015-2016”:

Table 2: Hate crimes recorded by the police, by monitored strand1,2, 2011/12 to 2015/16
           
Numbers and percentages         England and Wales, recorded crime
Hate crime strand 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 % change 2014/15 to 2015/16
   
Transgender  313  364  559  607  858 41
   
Source: Police recorded crime, Home Office
1. Hate crimes are taken to mean any crime where the perpetrator’s hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised. For the agreed definition of hate crime see: http://www.report-it.org.uk
2. Data were collected from 44 police forces in England and Wales and cover notifiable offences only (see the User Guide for more information).

To incite cisgender women’s fears of rape, sexual assault and sex discrimination on the basis that transgender women will not suffer the same, and indeed that cisgender men may take advantage and commit crimes and discriminate against cisgender women in favour of transgender women is unsubstantiated bullshit, and fear-mongering at its worst.

Let’s not forget this article is about the debating of amendments which may be applied to the Gender Recognition Act 2004.  No decisions, no policy, no guidelines for amendment have been made.

The article is littered with supposition, and devoid of fact.  It is all opinion.  Now, this is fine, and I am firmly in favour of opinion being expressed, but that means those who disseminate such opinions have a responsibility towards their readership, and a site which professes to be for equality, as Women’s Views on News does (FPFW does not, it is explicitly transphobic), is shocking.  It is clear that WVON are for equality but only for cisgender women and cisgender girls; there is a cut-off point at which cisgender identifying people receive priority over their transgender sisters.  The transgender community will be thrown under the bus.

There should not be a dichotomy of thinking here, but the refusal to accept and understand (as opposed to tolerate) the existence of transgender people let alone the right to a safe life means one is set up.  It’s not an either/or situation, unless you hold bigoted views about the transgender community, and at that point, you lose credibility as an equality activist. If you are happy to divide and oppress one part of the intersectionally oppressed community, I cannot trust that you will not divide and oppress others.

I am pleased to note that the petition on 38 Degrees has been taken down and removed as a violation of the terms and conditions of the non-partisan site.

It’s a shame that Women’s Views on News has not seen fit to remove such a transphobic article from their site too.

gender equality image

Unnatural Appetites

Since I was 11 years old I have been on a medication called sodium valproate.  For the first few years I came off the medication twice but had further seizures, so at the age of 17 I was put on them permanently to control the tonic-clonic/grand mal (depending on your age when I was diagnosed, the medical term changed) seizures I suffered having been diagnosed with epilepsy.

The medication has several side effects, none of which were explained to my parents or myself at diagnosis.  I did not find out about them until I asked at 18 years old, having done a bit of research myself.  It was not until my first smear test that I was told getting pregnant would be a big no-no due to severe foetal abnormalities, and should only be attempted under the guidance of medical professionals.  How lucky I have never wanted children then

Me & Lynne aged approx 12

Me on the left aged 12, the age of diagnosis

The biggest and most impactful side effect is that of the unnatural appetite.  This is something I have struggled with and will continue to struggle with for the rest of my (hopefully long and delightfully weird) life.

I have an identical twin sister.  Until the point of medication, she and I weighed the same.  After diagnosis and medication, I put on at least 14 pounds and since that time was “the Fat Twin”™.  It’s a thing with twins by the way.  You always get “the Clever One”, “the Pretty One”, “the Good One”, “the Weird One” or some such ridiculous definition which limits and boxes you even though it is simply meant to differentiate you for the benefit of people who cannot be bothered to learn your names.

Me aged 13 ish

Aged 13 or 14.

I could see what I SHOULD look like, given the fact we ate pretty the same things and were the same height, and did the same activities.  We did not, and I continued to be bigger as we got older.  I had an Unnatural Appetite.

To help explain what that means, imagine you are really hungry.  I don’t mean just in need of a snack to raise your energy levels, or possibly thirsty as that feels the same as hunger.  I mean a gnawing pain in the stomach which causes you to wake in the middle of the night, to want to or actually to cry, to be unable to rest and to know, without a doubt, that unless you eat something you will not sleep/concentrate/be able to do anything.  Now imagine never knowing if your hunger is because your body needs sustenance or because your medication is telling you lies.

I have burst into desperate tears whilst at work behind the Student Union Bar, I have woken in the middle of the night more times than I can remember and have been unable to sleep without eating a bowl of cereal (which my husband can attest to), I have felt faint (not fun when you have epilepsy as you immediately think you may start seizing), I have become snappy and desperate, and the mistrust of my body and the messages it sends will always have a detrimental impact on me.

All of this I could cope with, all of it, if it weren’t for the fact I live in a society where women are not supposed to have appetites let alone unnatural ones.  I have had abuse hurled at me from passing cars, I have been teased since I was 12, by adults and children, I have had it made very clear to me that I am considered ugly by societal standards, and I call BULLSHIT!

Me aged 38 at the slimmest I've ever been as an adult

Aged 38, and the slimmest I have ever been since the age of 21.

Because part of my weight is due to medication side effects, I will never be the model of societal beauty.  The pressure and the cruelty most certainly impacted my eventual diagnosis of clinical depression (which I still and always will suffer from, and I am currently on a very low dose of medication for this too).

That should not matter though.  It is entirely irrelevant if there is a reason for a woman’s (cisgender or transgender, the societal pressures are the same as they apply to the perceived gender) size, it is no-one’s business but their own and it is a ridiculous, cruel and sexist standard to hold anyone to, let alone to oppress and suppress an entire gender identity because of it.

Consider the knock-on effect. As a result of the poor self-image I have, I may model poor self-image to others although I try extremely hard not to.  I don’t judge anyone in the way I am judged because I know how it feels, but these things are very deeply ingrained.  I am sure I have treated past partners badly, ready to disbelieve their attraction to me and run at the first hint of any trouble or assume the worst at all times.

No-one exists in a vacuum, untouched and unheard, nor unhearing.  The abuse I have received and that I perceive against people of all colours, all gender identities, all disabilities, all sexualities, has an effect as well.  It is inculcated societal bullying, behaviour we do not accept on the school playground, and damn well should not accept as adults and yet we do.  Myriad internet posts refer to the fatness of celebrities, female politicians are harangued for their looks instead of their policies (and no, if a man is harangued for his looks it is not seen as affecting his ability to do his job whereas it does for a woman, so it is NOT the same thing).

SFW44

This picture is of me, now, cosplaying Willow Rosenberg at the SFW8 convention last February.  I may never be comfortable in my own skin, but I am going to strive to ensure that no-one else feels the same way as me.

I have an unnatural appetite due to medication, and I have a large body due to disability, medication and a joy of sweet foods.  I never was a ‘pretty young thing’ nor will I ever be a pretty old thing.  But as long as I get to be an old thing I’m going to do my absolute best to be happy about it, even if it is despite myself.

So, don’t fat-shame or body-shame, all it does is show your ignorance, prejudice and bigotry.  I’d rather have a fat body than be a fathead, and so should you.

Are you Happy for Me to Die, Mrs May?

nhs-nye-bevan

There is only one political issue that has me absolutely terrified about my future and my life, literally, and it is the debate over the survival of the NHS.

The NHS IS in crisis, despite what the current government repeat so often that it seems they are trying to convince themselves, not us (the fact that 70 MPs have financial interests in private healthcare companies in no way reflects any sort of a bias in parliamentary attitudes and policy creation and implementation, of course).

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross stated on 6th January of this years that his organisation is “responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country. We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds.”

I know this election is about far more than the NHS, but each issue does not stand alone and although this issue is the one that could kill me if the Conservatives win, there is so much more at stake than that.

Immigration is an issue which is intrinsically tied into the survival of the NHS.  One in seven immigrants in this country is employed by the NHS many on wages so low that under Conservative proposals they will no longer be able to be employed by the NHS and will face deportation.  There are not sufficient numbers of qualified doctors to replace those we may lose, let alone replace the support staff who will be the ones facing deportation due to lack of high enough wages to meet Conservative requirements.  In the Conservative’s own words (pages 54 and 55 of the Conservative Manifesto – bold highlight my own):

Controlling immigration Britain is an open economy and a welcoming society and we will always ensure that our British businesses can recruit the brightest and best from around the world and Britain’s world-class universities can attract international students. We also believe that immigration should be controlled and reduced, because when immigration is too fast and too high, it is difficult to build a cohesive society.

 Thanks to Conservatives in government, there is now more control in the system. The nature of the immigration we have – more skilled workers and university students, less abuse and fewer unskilled migrants – better suits the national interest. But with annual net migration standing at 273,000, immigration to Britain is still too high. It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.

We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union. We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas. We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards. We will expect students to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies have concluded. Overseas students will remain in the immigration 55 statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration.

Leaving the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too. We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs”.

National Debt to 2016 - ONS

Source – the Office of National Statistics

The austerity cuts that the Conservatives have presided over since 2010, first in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and then in 2015 when they were elected with a majority, have not succeeded.  The country is in far more debt that before 2010.

As a result of this disabled people, a community of which I am proud to be a member, and fortunate enough in my disability to be able to work full-time and not face the issues many of my friends are facing, are dying in their hundreds if not thousands, and yet you continue to deny any link, even when the link is specifically stated in a suicide note, such instances which there has been more than one public report.  Have a google, Mrs May, and you will soon see the truth, if you have the wit and care to see it.  If you think the decimation of the NHS has nothing to do with this you know nothing about disability, Mrs May.

Look at my face, look at my humanity.  Look at me, Mrs May, if you need a face to put to the terror you are inflicting.  You will kill me, Mrs May, with your non-costed and ill-thought out policies.  You are killing many already, Mrs May.  I hope you can live with that, if you continue on the path to privatisation.

You are not strong and stable, Mrs May.  You are stubborn and blindly privileged, and you are killing people.  People are terrified, and it is you causing that terror.  I’m sure there is a noun for a person who causes such fear.  What would that be, Mrs May?  Can you think of the word?  Because that is what you and your Conservative party are, to me.

The Value of My Friendship

What am I worth as a person?  Why would anyone want to be my friend, or even spend time with me?  Am I inept as a person, pointless, valueless in both time spent with me and the person that I am?  Why would I inflict myself on anyone?

These thoughts used to spin round my head constantly, and to be perfectly frank with myself, they still do.  Social anxiety quite often comes with depression, either before it develops or as a symptom afterward and I still struggle with the idea that I have a worth and that people will want to spend time with me, just me, not for any particular reason.

For years I felt I had to have an excuse to visit with my friends.  I would be cooking them a meal, or had been invited by them for an evening/afternoon, or was helping them with a particular task.  Some tangible evidence that there was a point to my presence in their lives.  I could not simply pop over for a cup of tea, or drop by on the off-chance they were in just to hang out.  To put this in perspective, for 11 years I lived in a shared house of 10 people, in a housing cooperative of 125 people, all like-minded and, well, quite hippyish.  Even there, I could not visit the next door house, or even knock on the rooms of those in my own house.  Using the shared kitchen with others around became very difficult at times.

I know I’m not alone in this, and I do believe the destruction of ‘community’ is partly to blame.  We are no longer able to stay near our families, to work where we live and we become separated, our lives become compartmentalised, and casual socialising is no longer as easy as it once was.

There are many reasons for my social anxiety, but there is one particular incident which helped me to overcome my belief that I was not worthy to be a friend and it involved stepping way out of my comfort zone by putting myself first, and taking a huge risk.   It involved a man who in one simple conversation taught me that I am worthy, whatever I may think.

I was in love with him.  Well, I had a MASSIVE crush at any rate, and he was my best friend for quite some years.  It reached the point where it was painful to be near him because I simply could not turn those feelings off (I’m sure we all know how painful unrequited love is).  I knew he did not feel the same way about me without us ever having discussed it, and I had hoped for many months that the feelings would just die away, but they didn’t.

We would hang out almost every evening; I felt safe and it was a great laugh.  He was a genuinely good man.  Those ‘in love’ feelings developed in spite of me, and hope is a real bugger sometimes.  It doesn’t matter what the mind knows, the heart will hope on regardless.  I knew I couldn’t carry on, the pain was just too much for me.

So I wrote him a letter.  I stated exactly how I felt, and that I was completely aware that he did not return those feelings, and that it was okay, but it hurt too much to be around him and that I would not be coming over to visit for a while until I managed to get over it.  I had to write it down and deliver it to him because there was no chance in hell I would be able to actually speak those words.

I hoped he’d be okay with the letter but he really wasn’t.  He was very upset, but not because of what I’d said but because he didn’t want to lose me as a friend.  He valued my friendship, and he let me know that he valued it.  He understood, and he cared enough not to give false hope or to be embarrassed and wish it would all go away.  He missed me as a friend.

You have no idea how much that meant to me (well you do, because I’ve just told you).  It meant more than being a girlfriend or partner ever would.  That a person would tell me that he understood my feelings and that he valued my friendship, and that he was upset because I wouldn’t be around for a while meant so much.

Something clicked in my head, and a lightbulb went off.  A true moment of clarity, and I realised that whilst I was in love with him, that would pass, but the love of a true friend was worth far more to me than what would only ever be a transient ‘in love’ relationship (because deep down I always knew we were not really suited to the long term as a couple).

I still struggle with social anxiety, still find it difficult to pop over to see someone, but this memory helps me with that.  It helps me to realise that it is my psyche which is telling me I am not of value as a friend, not the reality of my friendships.  It’s not what I do that I am valued for, but who I am.  I know the value of my friendship now, and it is thanks to that man.

I will always love him for that, and I hope I am as good a friend to others as he was to me.

Friends

UK Election 2017 – Your Vote Is More Vital Than Ever Before

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Please vote. Your citizens, your community and your society needs YOU!

You still have time to register to vote in this upcoming, incredibly important election on Thursday 8th June 2017; registration closes on 22nd May 2017. It has never been more important than in this election yet myriad social media posts, articles, listicles, soundbites and other items have appeared which may confuse more than inform.

Don’t forget, though, local council elections on 4th May 2017 as well – many of you have two chances within five weeks to guide this country the way you want it to go!

I would ask you to bear in mind the following when picking your party:

  1. You are voting for a party, not a person. However much you may actually like your MP, is the party they represent the best for the country as a whole?  Read the manifestos if you can, links to the political party websites are below.
  2. This is not a one issue election, they never are.  The method by which the UK will Brexit is just one of many policies under discussion.  Make an informed choice, not a knee-jerk reactionary fearful one which the media and many politician seem to be attempting to force us all to do.
  3. Vote for what will be best for the country, not simply for yourself. It is too easy to vote simply to better your own position, but how can that be right if it means others will suffer?  Under the governments of the last 20, even 30, years the position of those without money, without accessibility, without equality, has worsened.  Picking the party that will potentially (not actually) increase the money in your pocket and for no other reason is selfish and in my view, immoral.
  4. Politicians argue with each other, that’s a very large part of their job. Try to analyse what they are saying.  Is it backed up by facts from independent sources, or if they are making promises, how are they intending to carry them out?  What is the costing for each policy? Where is the money coming from?

Look at the record of the party; what have they enacted previously? What was the result of such enactment?  Have they kept their promises? Do you trust the party to carry out their pledges, based on past behaviour?  Check out the voting record of your MP and any other you wish to check out, by clicking here.

A lot of people may intend not to vote and there are so many reasons for this.  More people didn’t vote in the last election in 2015 than actually voted for the winning party.  Think how those votes could have changed things!  You might think not voting indicates your disaffection with the system and lack of belief in it, but no-one will know that and the country is stuck with the result regardless.

I am voting Labour in this election; I live in a borough where it is a safe seat and I believe, upon reading all the manifestos and having followed my own suggestions, that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is the best chance for a brighter future for the majority of us, in particular the disenfranchised, discriminated against and downtrodden members of society.

What I am sure of is that another term of a Conservative government will lead to more deaths, more pain, more hate and more divisiveness, and I am terrified that it will mean no more NHS.

If recent elections have shown us anything it is that if you believe your vote will have no effect so you don’t bother, then the worst candidate may actually be elected. Yes, United States of America, I am looking at you.  You may not be interested in politics, but it is interested in you.   Don’t let it be a one-way relationship.  Vote, and don’t let yourself be silenced.

Be informed and be the change we all need everyone to be.

Other sources of help in this election (also do a web search for articles and information):
UK Trans” – UK Transgender advice/campaigning site.
Operation Black Vote” – political campaigning site for BAME people.
Stonewall” – LGBTQPIA advice and campaign group.
Disability Rights UK” – Disabled persons’ advice and campaigning group.
In addition, advice for disability access when voting can be located by clicking here.

Party Websites/Manifestos (copy/cut and paste, or click the link):
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
 (Northern Ireland https://allianceparty.org/)
Conservative Party (Tories https://www.conservatives.com/)
Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland http://www.mydup.com/)
Green Party (England and Wales https://www.greenparty.org.uk/)
Labour Party (http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/home/)
Liberal Democrat Party (http://www.libdems.org.uk/)
Plaid Cymru (Wales http://www2.plaid.cymru/)
Scottish Green Party (https://greens.scot/)
Scottish National Party (https://www.snp.org/)
Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland http://www.sinnfein.ie/)
Social Democrat & Labour Party (Northern Ireland http://www.sdlp.ie/)
UK Independence Party (UKIP http://www.ukip.org/)
Ulster Unionist Party (Northern Ireland http://www.uup.org/)

May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears

Proportional Representation-One Person, One Vote That Counts!

I have just about recovered from the results of the UK General Election in 2015 (no, I haven’t) but am very nervous for the upcoming local elections on Thursday 4th May (ruining Star Wars Day, thanks!).  In the general election the Conservative party ended up with a majority having received 36.7% of the votes cast in total, which represents 24% of those who are actually registered to vote.  12% more people chose not to vote at all than chose to vote for the party that now controls the United Kingdom (even with Northern Ireland and Scotland having devolved, funding and much policy still derives from the London-based Parliament).  The current make-up of the House of Commons can be found by clicking here.

It rapidly became clear that the number of seats won did not reflect the amount of votes cast for each party.  That is how our First-Past-The-Post voting with its unevenly-populated electoral borough for each MP system works.  In other words, and as I have written before, it doesn’t.  Moreover, this situation has been steadily worsening for decades.  There has not been a government formed by a party who have achieved a clear majority vote since 1931.  To put that into more perspective that is only 3 years after there were finally equal voting rights for men and women in the United Kingdom.

Six years ago there was a referendum to decide if we would stick with FPTP or move to an Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which preferred candidates are ranked according to preference, and votes are counted until one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast.   This is the system used by many of the political parties to elect their leadership – UKIP, Labour, Lib Dem, Green Party, and the Conservatives, who use a series of FPTP votes which seems to me to be AV in a more costly format.  I could not find the relevant information for Plaid Cymru, SNP, Democratic Unionists or Ulster Unionists without joining, but please do research for yourselves!

The No vote won this simple Yes/No choice, but the reasons varied from those who did not understand AV to those who wished to retain FPTP to those who believed a vote for AV would mean never getting Proportional Representation.  Only 41% of registered voters exercised their right to choose Yes or no on AV.  I say it is time for a Yes/No vote on Proportional Representation.

2015 election by PR

I find the UKIP vote result scary, but under PR everyone would have a choice of all parties; who knows how that would change the outcome.

Simply put, proportional representation would mean that each party receives a percentage of seats in parliament equal to the percentage of votes cast by the electorate for that party.  So if a party got 20% of the vote, they would receive 20% of the seats.  If this system were in place now, then UKIP would have 99 MPs and the Green Party would have 37 MPs, instead of the one apiece they have.

2015 election by FPTP

What we have now. Not exactly a democratic system, by any statistical analysis.

Proportional Representation needs careful thought.  A significant factor is that MPs would be selected by parties for seats in the Houses of Parliament meaning they would not be representative of the local areas any more.  Constituencies would not be required, and this needs to be addressed if people are going to feel they are represented and they have somewhere to take grievances or issues.  There must be clear guidance on the issues and delineation as to local/national decisions must be put in place before PR is enacted.

Local councils and Mayors would need to be elected separately as they are now, but with specific remit to represent their constituents to Parliament.  For example, if there were objections to a bypass being built through a village to circumvent a town, then the local government would be able to represent its people in any objections there may be, and they would have the devolved powers to do so.  Parliament published a summary of proposals for devolution to local government in England on 20th May 2015, and this can be accessed here.

It is very important that local government will be able to hold central government accountable for its actions; each must be the other’s arbiter.  This is also why we must retain our rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, so that citizens have a place of appeal beyond that of local and central government.

The move to proportional representation is not one to be taken lightly.  It will mean that parties you do not agree with will gain seats, as well as those you do.  However, if we are to have a fairer electoral system we must accept that those we disagree with have an equal right to be heard.  Who knows what the results of a PR election may be though?  Tactical and protest voting will no longer be necessary as there will be candidates across the country for whom you may vote; each person will have the same parties to vote for.  It must be a system in which the smallest marginal party can stand next to the largest national party.  Specific local issues will be dealt with under specific local government.

This will be a massive undertaking and the UK government is scheduled to debate the introduction after a recent petition on the government website reached over 103,000 signatures before closing at midnight on Thursday 6th April 2017.

Political and constitutional reform demands nothing less than intimate, forensic-level research and implementation.  However difficult and complicated the shift to Proportional Representation may be, it cannot be less fair than the system under which we currently operate.  Put simply, Proportional Representation needs to happen.

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